Sometimes, events happen in life that change people forever. Local military veterans Charles “Pete” Reliford and Wilburn Cheatham may have experienced such a day last week .
Reliford and Cheatham, who served their country proudly, were given a proper welcome home and a special day to remember when they took part in an Honor Flight to Washington, D.C.
“Probably besides my wedding day and the birth of my kids, it was the best day I have ever had in my life,” Reliford said. “I really can’t explain what it was like.”
“I really enjoyed it after I went,” said Cheatham. “They took us to a lot of different things throughout the day. We went to all the memorials; it was a lot of fun.”
The event was coordinated by Honor Flight Bluegrass, an organization located in Louisville that takes veterans from World War II, the Korean War and Vietnam on a one-day trip to the nation’s capital.
The attendees spent the day getting to know each other, visiting memorials and monuments around the capital and, maybe most important, being honored for their military service.
Reliford, 73, was draft- ed into the Army on Jan. 10, 1968 at the age of 19. He served as an artillery mechanic during his two years of service.
“The way I looked at it was I didn’t ask to go, but I was ready to go if I was called,” said Reliford. “The country said they needed me. I am by no means a hero and I don’t want to be presented that way. I was asked to do a job and I went and did it.”
Cheatham, a 90-year- old Army veteran, served almost two years in combat. He currently lives in Campbellsville, but Cheatham left for the service from Adair County in 1952.
“We were supposed to serve 13 months in Korea before we could come home,” Cheatham said. “I was on the front line all the time; we were in combat just about every night.”
The Honor Flight left Louisville bright and early the morning of Wednesday, Oct. 20. After arriving in Washington, D.C., the veterans stayed busy. The day included stops at the Air Force Memorial, Arlington Cemetery, the Korean War Memorial, the FDR Memorial and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, and that was all in the first few hours. They arrived back in Louisville at 9:15 p.m. CST.
“They had something for us to do the entire day,” Cheatham said. “I knew a lot of guys while I was in the military, but I didn’t know any of them on the Honor Flight. We got acquainted with a lot of them over the flight.”
“Arlington Cemetery stood out above everything else for me,” Reliford said. “We watched the changing of the guard and the laying of the wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. It was a great moment.”
He also said he spent a lot of time at the Vietnam Memorial looking up the names of some of the men he fought with.
Before the veterans left Washington, D.C. to return to Louisville, the organizers of Honor Flight Bluegrass had a “mail call.” Each veteran received a package of cards and letters from family and friends recognizing them for their service to their country.
They were met with cheers and welcome home signs after their return flight, a proper welcome home some veterans have never before received.
“The trip was just a week ago, so I haven’t really been able to let it all sink in,” Reliford said. “The trip had a big impact on me. It may sound crazy, but now I think I feel more at peace with myself.
“I didn’t go on the flight to be honored for what I did. I went on the flight to honor the veterans that didn’t make it home. I always have lived with a guilt about how I made it home and others didn’t. I went on the flight as my way to honor them and thank them for their service.”
By Scott Wilson